Orbiter mission reveals a never-before-seen look at our Sun

Powerful flares, incredible views of the solar poles, and a curious solar “hedgehog” are among the array of spectacular images, movies, and data obtained by Solar Orbiter on its first approach to the Sun.

On March 26, this European mission fulfilled one of its milestones by approaching only 48 million kilometers from the star, a moment that it recorded with its ten instruments and observation cameras.

The data has taken weeks to download and scrutinize and this week the European Space Agency (ESA) has reported part of the study.

“Although analysis of the new dataset has only just begun, it is already clear that the ESA-led mission is providing extraordinary insights into the Sun’s magnetic behavior and how this determines space weather,” says a researcher. space agency statement

Perihelion: 500 degrees of temperature

Solar Orbiter’s closest approach to the Sun, known as perihelion, occurred on March 26.

The spacecraft was within Mercury’s orbit, about a third of the distance the Sun is from Earth, and its heat shield reached about 500 degrees.

But, remember the ESA, the probe dissipated the heat with its innovative technology to stay safe and operational.

Solar Orbiter carries ten scientific instruments – nine of them run by ESA Member States and one by NASA – all working closely together to provide an unprecedented view of how our local star ‘works’.

Some are remote sensing instruments that observe the Sun, while others locally monitor conditions around the spacecraft, allowing scientists to “join the dots” of what they see happening on the Sun and what Solar Orbiter “feels.” in your position.

Regarding perihelion, it is clear that the closer the spacecraft gets to the Sun, the more details the remote sensing instrument is able to see.

solar flares

The spacecraft captured several solar flares and even a coronal mass ejection directed at Earth, providing an opportunity for real-time space weather forecasting, an increasingly important task given the threat that solar storms pose to technology and systems. astronauts.

“The images are really impressive,” says David Berghmans of the Royal Observatory of Belgium and principal investigator of the instrument that takes high-resolution images of the lower layers of the Sun’s atmosphere, known as the solar corona.

This region is where most of the solar activity that drives space weather takes place.

An especially striking feature was also observed during this perihelion; for now it has been nicknamed “the hedgehog”. It stretches 25,000 kilometers across the Sun and has a multitude of hot and cold gas peaks extending in all directions.

The previous perihelions took place on June 15, 2020, February 10, 2021, and September 12, 2021.

The perihelion of March 26, 2022 is considered the first in a series of close perihelions; the next one will be on October 13 this year.

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